Officials in one North Georgia county are taking steps to fight the deadly rabies virus from spreading.
The Whitfield County Board of Health has appointed two rabies control officers. The USDA is helping fight the disease in that area too.
Rabies is common in North Georgia, because its highly populated with the animals that are most likely to carry it: raccoons, foxes, coyotes, and skunks. A man in Gilmer County just contracted the disease last month.
Whitfield County health officials say they've had a few people who required the pricey but effective post rabies exposure shots this year, so they're taking steps to make sure it's thoroughly investigated, and telling residents how to protect themselves.
"We are considered in a rabies endemic area where rabies is very common," Dr. Emily Felker said.
A veterinarian, Felker offers low cost rabies vaccines in her mobile unit outside the Whitfield County Animal Shelter every Monday, and says she can't emphasize enough how destructive rabies can be not just to dogs and cats, but also to humans.
"Rabies is important because it's deadly in all warm blooded animals," Dr. Felker said.
That's why the county's board of health is making sure every suspected case is being investigated by two newly appointed rabies control officers.
Rabies is only contracted if an infected animal breaks your skin. If that happens, call your doctor, animal control and health department.
The rabies control officers will place the animal in quarantine for 10 days and test it for rabies. If it does have it, your doctor will likely recommend you being injected with a series of post exposure shots, that cost anywhere from $10,000 to $15,000.
"You take it for granted unless it affects you, and it's a very deadly disease, and it's out there," Garrett said.
Within the last year, the USDA extended its fight against the disease into Whitfield County, dropping bate from planes laced with the rabies vaccine. The rabies control officers helped with that on the ground.
"Go through town and vacant lots and trash cans and dumpsters where they draw raccoons and we try to vaccinate those by mouth," Garrett said.
But, they say the public is key in keeping it from spreading too by vaccinating pets, staying away from strange acting animals, keeping pet food indoors, and educating children.
"Especially with kids they need to be taught don't pet any animals they don't know even if it looks cute and cuddly, it may still harbor rabies," Whitfield County Environmental Health Manager Chad Mulkey said.
Animals may display different signs of being infected by rabies, some by being more aggressive, others by staggering around in a confused dazed. Raccoons are the number one carriers.
Whitfield County had a rabies control officer in the past, but that person left. This is the first time the board has appointed two. Both of them already worked for the county.